Players Centre shops for a season in new Sarasota mall venue

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Jeffery Kin, artistic director of the Players Centre for Performing Arts, announces the company’s 92nd season during a presentation for donors and sponsors at its new space in the Crossings at Siesta Key shopping mall.

As he gets ready for his 15th season as producing artistic director of the Players Centre for Performing Arts, Jeffery Kin knows there is no time for coasting.

Like most other arts organizations, The Players canceled the majority of its planned 2020-21 season because of the coronavirus pandemic, but managed to present a few outdoor plays and musical revues at The Bazaar on Apricot and Lime and Selby Botanical Gardens.

Ticket Newsletter:Sign up to receive the latest news on things to do, restaurants and more every Friday

Meet the CEO:New Players Centre CEO leads through transition to Lakewood Ranch

With no performances to offer, it finally moved out of its longtime home on North Tamiami Trail (which has since been demolished) and found a temporary venue in a former Banana Republic store in the Crossings at Siesta Key shopping mall, while it continues to raise money for a planned new theater complex that will be built in the Waterside community of Lakewood Ranch.

Recreating a shopping center:What's happening at the Crossings at Siesta Key in Sarasota?

After a tumultuous 18 months, it’s “welcome back to the real world,” said Kin, the artistic director, in an interview. “We feel a little rejuvenated and are looking at theater from a fresh perspective.”

At special events for sponsors and donors on Monday and Tuesday, Kin, CEO William Skaggs and some performers announced the company’s 92nd season of six shows and introduced its temporary space in the mall that was once known as Southgate Plaza.

A display window at the temporary new home for the Players Centre for Performing Arts in a former retail store at the Crossings at Siesta Key.

Clothing display racks and shelving units will be replaced as the staff transforms the 5,400-square-foot store into a theater with a stage, backstage and dressing areas and room for about 140 audience members. 

There won’t be space for the kind of big splashy musicals audiences are used to, but Kin said he didn’t dwell on limitations.

“I tried not to look at what we can’t do but rather at what we can do,” he said. “Our stage before was so large that it was often a challenge to do some of the smaller pieces we wanted to do. This is an opportunity to give attention to shows we’ve been thinking about that we thought might get lost on the big stage.”

The new season will begin Oct. 5-17 with “[title of show]” – a musical by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell about a pair of writers creating a new musical for a festival about their efforts to create the show. The unusually depicted title is a reference to a submission form where they must insert the name of their show. 

“If COVID taught us anything, it’s inspiration and taking a look at why we do the work that we do. ‘[title of show]’ does that with great heart and great music,” Kin said. “It’s a great way to open the space. It’s all about creating, creating a new space, creating a new season.”

It will be followed by William Finn’s 1992 Tony-winning “Falsettos,” about a married man who realizes he is gay and moves in with his male lover while trying to maintain some semblance of a more traditional family life with his ex-wife and son. It runs Nov. 2-14. The show, which had its debut in 1992, is the combination of two earlier one-act shows, “March of the Falsettos” and “Falsettoland.”

Times have changed in the views of gay relationships and what makes a family since the show opened, which Kin said may “add some relevance that may not have been apparent when it opened. I love shows that have a little bit of age to them and how an audience will look at them now.”

Zoe Smith and Lacey Knispel perform a song from the upcoming 92nd season during a preview program for the Players Centre for Performing Arts.

“The Marvelous Wonderettes,” running Dec. 7-19, is a revue by Roger Bean featuring pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s performed by four friends at their high school senior prom. The theater presented a production several summers ago “and everyone said, ‘Why are you doing this in the summer. So many people aren’t here to see it.’”

It will be followed Jan. 18-30 by “Forbidden Broadway,” Gerard Alessandrini’s long-running spoof of Broadway shows, stars and gimmicks, from its earliest hits up to such modern favorites as “Wicked.” “This is a real celebration of live theater,” Kin said.

“Beehive,” which tracks the hits of the 1960s by female singers, along with cultural changes, will run Feb. 15-27. It is new to the Players Centre. 

“I love empowering our ladies to just go big. This isn’t the ‘Wonderettes.’ This is more rock ’n’ roll, a little edgier and it’s going to be a great challenge for some of our vocalists.”

The final production will be “Some Enchanted Evening,” a revue of songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, touching on all their shows from “Oklahoma” through “The Sound of Music.” Kin said the theater last presented it in 2009. “I wanted us to reflect on those amazing shows and amazing songs” particularly at a time when the theater can’t produce the big Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.

The new space will featured scaled-down productions – there is no fly space and the wings will have limited space – to fit on a stage that will be 18 feet wide and about 20 feet deep.

Racks and shelves once used for clothing displays line the walls of the temporary home of the Players Centre for Performing Arts in a former Banana Republic store.

“This is going to give us a lot of opportunities to invest in some smaller shows that we couldn’t do in our backstage space. It gives us a chance to be more creative in how we make them work,” he said.

The theater also hopes, as the season progresses, to be able to do additional productions outdoors in different locations.

While performances are moving, the theater company continues to operate its studio and classes on Boulevard of the Arts and Central Avenue, where rehearsals will be held until the shows are ready to move into the new space. It also has a scene shop a short distance away where it can build sets, store props and costumes and house its technical operations.

Players Centre for Performing Arts

Crossings at Siesta Key

3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Suite 1130

941-365-2494; theplayers.org

2021-22 season

“[title of show]” – Oct. 5-17

“Falsettos” – Nov. 2-14

“The Marevlous Wonderettes” – Dec. 7-19

“Forbidden Broadway” Jan. 18-30

“Beehive” – Feb. 15-27

“Some Enchanted Evening” March 15-27

Follow Jay Handelman on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Contact him at jay.handelman@heraldtribune.comAnd please support local journalism by subscribing to the Herald-Tribune.